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RUSSIA’S INTERVENTION IN SYRIA

Putin Syria

A generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is back in the Middle East.   It cannot be good for America!

Britain dominated the Middle East between the two world wars. After World War II, that domination continued for about a decade. Then, in 1956, the Egyptians seized the British and French owned Suez Canal. The two countries, together with Israel, invaded Egypt in an attempt to reclaim the Canal, but they were stopped by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.     In hindsight, it marked the end of the British Empire. It also resulted in greater US involvement in the region.

The Book of Daniel is a prophetic book in the Old Testament, written during the sixth century before Christ.  It’s a remarkable book because the writer, Daniel, who served two kings of Babylon while Babylon was the greatest power in the world, then served two kings of Persia when it was the Persian turn to attain the status of super power.

His writings predicted the eventual replacement of Persia by Greece and then, in turn, Rome.   These were four of the greatest empires of the ancient world.   Each rose to greatness and each descended into oblivion.   Only their ruins remain.

Daniel put it well when he wrote the following:

“And He (God) changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.” (Daniel 2:21)

God is behind the rise and fall of nations.   He also reveals His prophetic outline “to those who have understanding.”

Just as Great Britain’s period of pre-eminence came to an end, so will America’s.   But, as with Britain, the change took a while to be fully realized.

Russia’s intervention in the Middle East fundamentally changes the balance of power in the region.   Russia, in the form of the Soviet Union, was heavily involved in the area following the British withdrawal.   While the US supported Israel, Jordan and the other conservative monarchies, including the Shah of Iran, Moscow supported Egypt and Syria.   That changed with the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979.   Moscow has not had much clout since.

But now that’s changed.   Moscow is not only involved in Syria, propping up President Bashar al-Assad against ISIS and other groups, it is also involved in Iran and Iraq.   In effect, Russia is backing the Shi’ite arc that starts in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and swings through Syria, Iraq and Iran.   Bible students will remember that this is basically the territory of the old King of the North of Daniel, chapter 11, the Seleucid dynasty that had its origins in the conquests of Alexander the Great.   The rivalry with the Ptolemaic dynasty labeled the King of the South in the scriptures continued for two centuries and constantly threatened the Jews who were in the middle. The terms “King of the North” and “King of the South” refer to their geographical location in relation to Jerusalem and the threat they posed to the ancient capital of the Jews.

The same chapter prophesies that these two powers will be revived in different form prior to Christ’s return and will once again threaten the Jewish nation of Israel.

So it’s interesting to see Russia getting involved.

Vladimir Putin had this to say at the United Nations just a few days ago:

“An aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself.   Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty, and social disaster.   Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.   I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you have done?”

President Putin was talking about the United States and the consequences of American intervention in the Middle East.

Discussing this speech on PBS’ McLaughlin Group, conservative columnist Pat Buchanan had this to say:

“We are responsible for the disaster in the Middle East by our interventions.”

The mess the US and its allies created in the Middle East is affecting peoples around the world.   The Lansing State Journal carried the following front-page headline today:   “Eager for Syrians to arrive”, referring to Lansing, Michigan, welcoming Syrian refugees in the coming days and weeks.   Europe has been invaded by hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom are refugees, over the last few weeks. Australians are also seeing Syrian refugees arrive in their country.   This could pose a serious security threat to western nations.

President Obama said the following at the UN:   “The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow.   You can jail your opponents, but you cannot imprison ideas.   You can control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth.”

What the US president was saying was intended as a warning to President Putin and the Arab dictator he intends to keep in power, President Assad of Syria. The latter is a ruthless dictator (the former is simply a dictator who can be ruthless; there’s a difference). The US position on Syria is that Assad must go. That now seems highly unlikely.   When Mr Obama refers to “ideas” that cannot be suppressed, he is referring to democracy and the “moderate” resistance to Assad. However, recent history shows that democracy is not the winner when dictators in the Middle East are overthrown. Rather, Islamic extremism or chaos, and usually both, result.

Putin, unfettered by ideological constraints, instinctively knows that.

Russia is in Syria to stay.

This could pose a problem for Israel now that the Russian bear is on its border.

It could also weaken the Russians.   Mr. Putin must remember that it was Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 that brought down the Soviet Union, which he has described as the greatest disaster of the twentieth century.

What it will mean for Russia is not clear at this time.   However, it is clear what it means for the United States.   Just as an American president’s decision in 1956 precipitated the fall of the British Empire, so an American president’s inaction over Syria and cozying up to Iran, with the resultant weakening of ties with traditional allies in the region, has directly led to America’s decline in the Middle East.

 

ISIL OR ISIS? WHAT’S IN A NAME?

ISIL or ISIS

Chuck Todd is the host of America’s longest running television series, “Meet the Press.”   Sometime ago he interviewed the President on his program.

Mr. Todd has an interesting explanation as to why the president insists on calling ISIS, ISIL.   The terrorist group called themselves ISIS until they shortened their name to IS, meaning “Islamic State.”

ISIS stands for “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”   These are the two countries in which the organization has been most successful, now controlling over 50% of Syria and substantial areas of Iraq.

ISIL stands for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”   This is a name the terrorists have never used, though it’s doubtful they will object to it as it actually makes them seem even more important than they already are.

The term “Levant” embraces a wider territory than just Iraq and Syria.   It includes those two countries and, in addition, Lebanon and Jordan.   ISIS has no territory in either country.  It would find Lebanon a very difficult country to conquer as it would come up against another terrorist group, Hezbollah, which is Shia Muslim.

So why does President Obama insist on ISIL?

Chuck Todd believes it has a lot to do with the mistakes the Obama Administration has made in Syria and his reluctance to face up to them.

An alternative theory, put forward on Fox by Harris Faulkner, is that using ISIL instead of ISIS gives the terror group a boost, implying they will soon control those countries, too, as they seek to expand their Islamic State.   This could suggest the president has some sympathy with them and their aims.

However, after watching PBS’s “Frontline” this week, Chuck Todd’s explanation has greater credibility.   (“Obama at War” should still be available at PBS.org and may be shown again on your local PBS station or PBS World.)

The one-hour documentary chronicled the mistakes the Administration made in Syria that led directly to the creation of ISIS (ISIL!).

It was early in 2011, during the euphoria of the Arab Spring, that demonstrations against the Assad regime began.   When President Assad’s forces cracked down on the demonstrators it triggered off the civil war, which has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.

Because the Administration decided not to support the “moderate” rebels, Sunni Muslims (the majority) in Syria needed protection from the ruling Shia.   This provided an opportunity for ISIS.

American weakness soon became obvious when the American president drew a line, making it clear that if Assad used chemical weapons there would be serious consequences.   The world has watched the Syrian government use chemical weapons more than once, witnessing children in their death throes from chlorine bombs and Washington has repeatedly failed to do anything.   This double mindedness has been to America’s shame!

“I would say, Mr. President, that you are going to go down in history if you continue like this, as somebody who has tarnished the reputation of the United States.   You have created many more enemies in the Middle East and you have unwittingly assisted global terrorism,” claimed Murhaf Jouejati, a member of the Syrian opposition to President Assad.

(Presumably, this program was produced prior to the recent summit in Washington DC with no-show Gulf Arab leaders. Even America’s traditional allies in the Middle East no longer trust the US over its dealings with Iran.)

Perhaps it is out of guilt that the Administration has allowed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians to resettle in the US, even though this poses a potential security risk at home.

But it’s no wonder the President of the United States does not want to mention Syria and prefers ISIL to ISIS.

His confused Middle East policy also helps us understand why he will not use the term “Islamic extremists,” thereby showing a link between religion and terrorism.

This would suggest the alternative theory is correct – that he wants to give a boost to ISIS.   The Bible tells us that “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).

Whatever the explanation, the western world is in trouble.   The next twenty months could be very challenging ones for the West, as this double minded foreign policy plays out.   A lot more can happen in the next few months.

TERROR GROUPS GLOBAL REACH

Jan. 27, 2015:  In this image made from video posted by a Libyan blogger, the Cortinthia Hotel is seen under attack in Tripoli. (AP)
Jan. 27, 2015:   In this image made from video posted by a Libyan blogger, the Corinthia Hotel is seen under attack in Tripoli. (AP)

ISIS has claimed it was behind the attack on a leading hotel in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, earlier this week.   The hotel was one of the few remaining western hotels, catering to foreign nationals. An American and a Frenchman were amongst the nine who were killed.

The attack shows that ISIS is now operating in Libya, a long way from home.

The three major terror threats right now are ISIS, AQAP and Boko Haram.

ISIS, having established a rudimentary caliphate over parts of Syria and Iraq, now calls itself IS (Islamic State) reflecting its new status as a country.   It is even negotiating with Jordan, a neighboring country, over the fate of a Jordanian prisoner and a Jordanian pilot captured by IS.   There is the possibility of a proposed exchange of prisoners.   They also hold a Japanese journalist and are threatening to behead him at the time of writing.

AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) staged the Paris attacks. Some terror experts say this is the most dangerous group and the biggest threat to the West, including the United States.   The terror group emanates from Yemen, home of Osama bin Laden.   Yemen’s pro-American government has just fallen, replaced by a group loyal to Iran, a Shi’ite theocratic republic.   This strengthens Iran at the expense of the US.   AQAP is Sunni and will likely continue uninterrupted, safe in its own territory in the splintered nation.

Boko Haram may seem disconnected but operates over an increasingly wide area.   It has the same aims as the other two, the downfall of the West and a rejection of all things western.

In addition to the three groups mentioned, there is also the Taliban, which continues to stage terror attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.   A Taliban attack on a school in December killed 148, mostly students.

Smaller groups like the Nusra Front also operate.

The Economist magazine (page 26, January 17th issue) showed there were 17 significant terrorist attacks by these groups in a one-month period (December 15th – January 13th).   The total number of deaths is hard to determine as statistics from some areas, especially Nigeria, are unreliable.   But a low estimate for the period totaled 528. During this one-month period there were terror attacks in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.   They included suicide bombings and gun attacks.

This is a global conflict, which will affect every nation on earth.

GROWING PROBLEM FROM TERRORISM

gallows_or_death_penalty

Pakistan and Jordan have both restored the death penalty in the last few days.   This is aimed at dealing with Islamic extremism, which threatens both countries.

It actually threatens every country. It’s just that most don’t realize it yet.

A week ago exactly, we witnessed the Sydney hostage siege, perpetrated by an Islamic extremist who had a black ISIS flag held up in the window.

The following day, the Taliban attacked a school in Pakistan, killing almost 150 people, most of them teenagers. Only a few weeks ago, it was said that the Taliban and al-Qaeda were not as bad as ISIS. Let’s face it – they all share the same ideology and are very keen on killing.

The internet is helping them. The violent extremists can communicate with each other. Websites encourage sympathizers in the West, of whom there are many, to perpetrate “lone wolf” attacks, to strike fear in people.

On Saturday, a lone wolf assassinated two policemen in their police car in Brooklyn, New York. This was supposedly in retaliation for the deaths of two black men, shot by white police officers. But the murderer here was a Muslim, heavily influenced by what he had seen on the web, urging people to stage lone wolf attacks.

The following day, Sunday, thirteen people were injured when a driver deliberately drove his car into a crowd in the French city of Dijon. As he ran over the pedestrians, he was shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great, in Arabic). A police spokesman said the driver was suffering from “psychological problems.”

This is a typical police response, denial of the ISIS connection to stop the spread of panic.

But, as these incidents become more frequent, there will inevitably be more panic.